Right to Repair and its impact on the Environment

In recent years, the concept known as the “right to repair” has become common in technological, industrial, and environmental circles. The idea is that manufacturers of electronics and automobiles should make the details of parts and repairs readily available to small businesses and the public, making full replacements less common and allowing people to make the most out of their technology. 

The right-to-repair movement is gaining more and more traction across the world, with the concept being weaved into law in the UK and various American states. While it’s largely a cultural shift for the sake of the consumer, it’s also gained momentum as an important part of the environmental conversation.

In this article:

Environmental Impact of Replacement Culture

With so many electronics and automotive companies against the right to repair, including Google, Tesla, and Apple, there are hundreds of thousands of phones and devices end up in landfills every day. Electronic devices are made using toxic chemicals and heavy metals, that are terrible for the environment when left in landfills and dangerous when incinerated. 

This isn’t to mention the impact of the actual replacements themselves. With more and more brand new models being built, means more resources are being used, including increased emissions from both manufacturing and transit.

Bringing Automobiles into the Conversation

In the case of car repair, the right to repair was not discussed until recently. With high-tech driver interfaces and other space-age features populating Teslas and other vehicles, more manufacturers than ever are attempting to conceal technical details from the public. This means that more brand-new cars are appearing on the roads, as well as longer distances being traveled so that people can get repairs from the OEMs.

Environmental Impact of Planned Obsolescence

Many brands use a strategy known as "planned obsolescence" in addition to withholding product repair information. This practice entails designing products with software and hardware that deliberately breaks down over time as a means of encouraging new sales. With companies making these kinds of choices, the harmful replacement culture is only being further propped up.

How Right to Repair Could Help

With a universal right to repair respected across the technological and automotive industries, the environmental impact of manufacturing could most certainly be reduced. 

In the case of handheld technology, landfills would become far less filled with older, perfectly usable smartphones and other comparable products, along with the fast-paced manufacturing lines potentially slowing down somewhat. This in turn would reduce greenhouse gasses and save some space that would otherwise be filled with waste. 

Some automotive associations, such as Synetiq, are attempting to make replacements and repairs more environmentally friendly by making more environmentally conscious parts available through databases, but it's an uphill battle against brands like Tesla.

The automotive industry was once a shining example of the right to repair in action, with local body shops and garages able to carry out repairs and thus stimulate the local economy. With cars becoming more high-tech and businesses following the tech giant model, consumers, small businesses, and the environment are all suffering. 

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The right to repair plan has been formulated to reduce the e-waste that ends up in landfills and to give consumers the right to ‘repair and reuse’ instead of ‘discard and buy new’.

Repairing devices and other objects rather than discarding them or replacing them with ‘new’ saves natural resources, prevents e-waste, and cultivates community.

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Eric Smith
Right To Repair Advocate
A DIY geek, Eric combines his passion for automobiles and his deep engagement with right to repair issues to empower vehicle owners everywhere.